The dynamics of moral progress

Julia Hermann (Corresponding author)

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Abstract

Assuming that there is moral progress, and assuming that the abolition of slavery is an example of it, how does moral progress occur? Is it mainly driven by specific individuals who have gained new moral insights, or by changes in the socio-economic and epistemic conditions in which agents morally judge the norms and practices of their society, and act upon these judgements? In this paper, I argue that moral progress is a complex process in which changes at the level of belief and changes at the level of institutions and social practices are deeply intertwined, and that changes in the socio-economic and epistemic conditions of moral agency constitute the main motor of moral progress. I develop my view of moral progress by way of grappling with Michelle Moody-Adams’ prominent philosophical account of it. My view is less intellectualistic and individualistic than hers, does not presuppose meta-ethical moral realism, and blurs her distinction between moral progress in beliefs and moral progress in social practices. I point out the limits of humans to progress morally, which are partly grounded in our evolutionary history, and argue that moral progress is always of a ‘local’ nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-311
Number of pages12
JournalRatio
Volume32
Issue number4
Early online date2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

Keywords

  • Michelle Moody-Adams
  • evolution
  • moral progress
  • moral realism slavery
  • social practices

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